My Week 162: Indigenous Discussions, Scientology, and the Cultural Appropriation of Iceland

This will be a quick one, because I spent most of this weekend at a conference. It was sponsored by the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Education Association. It was a humbling experience, and I really learned a lot. The biggest thing I learned was that Indigenous people are angry AF. And with good reason. Of course, they express that anger in a very polite, articulate, and dignified way, but there’s no question that they are supremely pissed.

I’m going to give you an analogy that will demonstrate the reason for their anger, but first a little context: This past week, the Church of Scientology took over a building in a town near here, a building that used to be a community centre, and they have converted it into their cultish administration offices which “will serve as a rallying point for Scientology activities across the country.” In case you’ve forgotten, Scientologists are a weird-ass cult founded in the mid-50s by a not-particularly-talented science fiction novelist, and they believe that aliens led by a dude named Xenu, “tyrant ruler of the Galactic Confederacy”, came to Earth 75 million years ago in giant spacecrafts. Then the aliens blew themselves up in volcanoes using hydrogen bombs, and their evil souls to this day try to inhabit regular people bodies. Now, if you don’t know anything about Scientology and think I’m making this sh*t up, I’m actually not. I guess in the long run, their belief system isn’t any stranger than most religions and it might be difficult to differentiate it from other belief systems, except that I doubt Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and all those other guys were failed writers who were trying to make money and evade taxes. The founders of most religions aren’t even aware that they’re founding ANYTHING at the time, unlike L. Ron Hubbard, who actively petitioned to have his science fiction tale recognized as a legitimate faith. At any rate, the people of Guelph organized a peaceful protest, and then the Grand Swami of Scientology (OK, she’s not really called that, but it sounds like it would fit nicely into their idiom) made a statement discrediting the protesters as a “hate group”.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the analogy. Let’s imagine that a couple of Scientologists come to your house one day, and they want to borrow a cup of sugar.

“No problem,” you say. “Here you go.”

“Gosh, thanks,” say the Scientologists, giving you the Vulcan salute or whatnot. “We might need more someday.”

“That’s fine,” you say. “I have lots. I’m happy to share.”

The next week, they come back, only this time there are 50 of them and they have phasers. They drag you out of your house and force you to live in the garden shed out back. Then they kill your dog, take your children away, sending them to weird-ass Scientology school, and you never see them again. Oh, and they also give you smallpox.

Are you mad?

The issues of our Indigenous people are certainly more complex than this (and don’t actually involve Scientology), but I hope you take my point.

I also went to a workshop on cultural appropriation, and it was really timely because right now it’s almost Hallowe’en, and Indigenous folk are really sick and tired of “Indian Princess” costumes. Even the name is offensive. I was actually shocked this summer when I went to a conference in the States, and one of the presenters actually referred to Indigenous people as “American Indians”. I was like, “You mean people from Southeast Asia who now live in the United States? That’s a very specific subgrouping.” But no, he meant Indigenous people. And they would really, really appreciate it if everyone stopped dressing their kids up like cultural stereotypes. If you really want to dress your child in the costume of another culture, may I recommend “Icelandic Stewardess”? When we flew back from the UK last summer on IcelandAir, they were actually selling “flight crew dresses” for girls aged 2 to 7. Apparently these are “elegant hats and dresses in the style of an Icelandair flight attendant”. They also cost 50 Euros, which is about $75 Canadian, so I guess they’re better quality than the Walmart Icelandic Stewardess costumes. Also, shoes seem to be optional.

The other interesting thing that happened was that I was standing in the hallway waiting for Ken to finish his session (yes, we were both there for work—nothing more romantic than spending the weekend together at a conference), when a woman (non-Indigenous) and her male companion stopped close by to me. All of a sudden, the woman burst out with, “The f*cking British. They ruined the world! F*ck them.” I was a little taken aback, and really wanted to respond with “The British? Don’t you mean the Romans?!” because the Romans were basically the master colonizers, and did to the Celts and many other cultures exactly what the Brits eventually did. But no one ever blames the Italians for ANYTHING, except taking a dive in soccer. Anyway, I was really perturbed by this and would really have loved to discuss it with her, but she seemed super angry and aggressive and swear-y so I left it alone. Then, as luck would have it, she ended up in my last session. She still seemed angry and aggressive, admonishing someone in our group that “our task wasn’t to make comments, but only to ask questions as per the protocol”, but I thought I might broach it with her at the end of the session, you know, just for fun like. But at the end, she went up to the session leader and suddenly burst into tears. Turns out she had been given a Native Studies class to teach. She was starting “Residential Schools” on Monday and had no idea how to teach it properly, knowing what she knew now. And I get that—it WAS overwhelming, and hard, and beautiful but I’m sure as hell glad I went. Meegwetch.

 

My Week 57: Hallowe’en Horrors!

Happy Hallowe’en!

Wednesday:

Hallowe’en is a bizarre time of year. People seem to get super-excited about it and spend inordinate amounts of time planning costumes, fixating on candy, making crafts and “fun” Hallowe’en foods—and that’s the adults. Never mind the kids who are throwing tantrums because the costume store sold the last Elsa outfit, and now they have to be Cinderella—“No one will know who I AM, Mom! It’s not fair!” It’s also the time when it becomes socially acceptable to denigrate females in any profession—“Let’s see…what do I want to be this year? Sexy Nurse, Sexy Librarian, Sexy Teacher, Sexy Doctor, Sexy Astronaut, Sexy Physicist—gosh, I JUST can’t choose!” And for men, apparently it’s holiday that lets them REALLY express their inner selves. I was on the streetcar last week, having a WONDERFUL time listening to the driver and one of his work colleagues (who was just standing next to him the whole way for some unknown reason) trash talking their “shop steward”, which I assume is like the union leader or something, because of course, there’s nothing more pleasant than listening to two grown men acting like 12 year-old girls. Then a man got on the streetcar and sat down next to me. He was probably in his late sixties, very portly, sporting a bushy, grey mustache, and carrying a plastic bag. After about 30 seconds he turned to me and said, “I’m so sad right now.” I hesitated, but what the hell, right? So I asked, “Why?”

“Well,” he said. I’m supposed to be going to a Hallowe’en party tonight, but it’s raining so hard that my costume would have been ruined, so I decided not to wear it.”

“Is it in your bag?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” he laughed. “But it was a great costume.”

“What were you going to be?” At this point, I figured ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, and it was better than listening to “Chrissy” and “Madison” griping about how Frank wouldn’t drive in from Brampton at 10 o’clock at night to see how badly the streetcar system was backed up. Anyhow, I thought, judging by the looks of the man next to me, that he was going to say “Scarecrow”, or “Witch”, but it turns out he was more the “Dorothy” type.

“I was going in drag,” he announced. “I do it every year. My friends will be so disappointed. Here, let me show you what I was going to look like.” With this, he pulled out his cell phone. And if you think things were a little weird up until now, just wait. He opened up a picture of himself, standing in front of a full-length mirror, dressed in a black wig, a colourful dress, full make-up, and high heels. “Very nice,” I commented, thinking that Rupaul might have given him a passing grade. Then, as he was trying to zoom in on the wig, which he seemed to be particularly proud of, he accidentally (oh God, please let it have been accidentally) flipped to the previous picture, which was the “before” picture—that is to say, a full-length shot of him wearing nothing but a pair of bikini briefs. Then he got flustered and tried to change the picture back, but he flipped the wrong way, and before I had a chance to avert my eyes, I’m pretty sure it was the “before Before” picture—ie: BEFORE he put on the bikini briefs.

“Gosh, these phones,” he giggled, and put it back in his pocket, while I tried to recover from the shock of seeing all that portliness in its natural glory. Then he began regaling me with tales of previous Hallowe’en costumes, including his first foray into the world of drag. “I dressed as Nana Mouskouri, but everyone thought I was a hooker. I thought I looked just like her—I even blackened my mustache to match my wig.”

We spent the rest of the ride with him talking and me smiling and nodding, still unsure if I had been flashed on purpose or not. We were getting off at the same stop, and when we finally exited, he said, “It was lovely talking to you, dear. Have a Happy Hallowe’en!” and with that, he disappeared into a sketchy-looking bar.

Thursday:

A group of us were reminiscing about Hallowe’en as we’d experienced it as children. The general consensus seemed to be that we had two common experiences; first, that no matter what your costume was, it had to fit over a snowsuit. There’s a wonderful picture of my brother and I when we’re about 8 and 6 respectively. I’m wearing a snowsuit and a Frankenstein mask, and he’s wearing a snowsuit and a tiger mask. Costumes today are so much more season-appropriate. When K was little, it was fake fur animal costumes, which looked cool and were also very warm, so I was never the mom who ruined Hallowe’en by saying, “You’re not going out as a Sexy Ballerina—you’ll freeze your tutu off. Now go find your snowsuit.” My favourite Hallowe’en memory of K was the year she wanted to be a shark. Very badly. The problem was, I couldn’t find a shark costume to save my life. So I found a dolphin costume, cut out teeth from a piece of white cardboard, and stapled them to the dolphin’s mouth. She was never the wiser, but we were all hysterical at the sight of this deranged porpoise toddling up to people’s porches.

The second rule of thumb for kids of my generation, and this is, sadly, still true today, was if there was anything unwrapped or homemade in your loot bag, your mom threw it away on the grounds that someone might have put a razor blade in it. I understand that it’s statistically EXTREMELY rare that anyone has ever tried to hurt a child by putting something nasty in their candy, but it’s also statistically true that there are crazy people in this world, sometimes in your very own neighbourhood, and you’d never know it until your child is all glassy-eyed from the hash brownie they just ate.

Saturday: The Day Arrives

On Saturday, I finally started to feel a little bit excited over Hallowe’en, as the time approached for the trick or treating to start. We live in a small town, and our house is set quite a bit back from the sidewalk, so I was worried that no one would come. I got a little obsessive, but Ken was just being mean, and refused to find our Christmas floodlights, so we could shine them on the house and let the kids know we were open for business. At around 6:00, it was getting pretty dark, and we’d only had two kids. I was getting desperate. Then I heard voices going past our gate. “We have candy in here! Come to our house!” I yelled out the door. In retrospect, maybe it was a little more like “luring” than “encouraging”, but I hadn’t carved a pumpkin for nothing. (In fact, I hadn’t carved a pumpkin, but I’d used a Sharpie to draw eyes and a mouth on one, and it looked GREAT.) The voices stopped, the group of people came up our sidewalk, and I was thinking this was a super plan. Then Ken came downstairs:

Ken: Was that you yelling at people to come to our house?
Me: Maybe.
Ken: Are you going to do that all night?
Me: Well, I don’t see any FLOODLIGHTS, Ken. How else will people know we have candy?

But despite my best efforts, we still only had 14 trick or treaters, and it was like the devil sent them to taunt me.

Little Ninja: How many people have you had tonight?
Me: Oh, a few.
Ninja: MY mom had a bowl with ONE HUNDRED bags of chips in it, and they’re all gone now!
Me: Shut up, demon child. (OK, that last line was in my head. What I really said is, Gosh, that’s a lot! Have a happy Hallowe’en.)

My favourite moment of the night: a little brother/firefighter and sister/princess came to the door. I gave him a KitKat and a sucker. I gave her an Aero bar and some rockets. As they were about to leave, she turned back:

Princess: Um…can I have what you gave him?
Me: Oh, you want a KitKat too? Sure.
Princess: (whispers) And the other…?
Me: The sucker? Of course, sweetie. Here you go.
Their mom (mortified): Sorry…
Me: No worries—I have a LOT of candy.

Most random occurrence: 3 kids and their parents came to the door around 7:15. The kids yelled Trick or Treat, then they held out their hands. I said, “Oh, don’t you have bags?”

“No,” said one of the dads. “Just give them the candy and they can put it in their pockets.”

Then Hallowe’en was over for another year. And I know this for sure, because I was in a store this morning, and they already had their full Christmas inventory on display.